“All I done was repeat what newspapers across our country have said.”
These, the words of Tommy Robinson, former leader of Islamophobic “protest movement” the English Defence League as he defended his views on British television on Tuesday morning.
Robinson, known for his online anti-Islam rants, had come under fire for his response to the Finsbury Park terrorist attack, which targeted Muslims near to two London mosques on Sunday.
Soon after a far-right terrorist - shouting that he wanted to “kill all Muslims” - drove his car into a group of worshippers, Robinson tweeted the following.
The mosque where the attack happened tonight has a long history of creating terrorists & radical jihadists & promoting hate & segregation— Tommy Robinson (@TRobinsonNewEra) June 19, 2017
He later responded to criticism of his apparent attempt to justify the attack in another tweet.
Before people start aiming hate or threats at me about this revenge attack at your mosque tonight,I've warned for yrs what u will create— Tommy Robinson (@TRobinsonNewEra) June 19, 2017
The following day, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, columnist and presenter Piers Morgan accused Robinson of “fermenting hatred and almost suggesting that somehow this attack, this ‘revenge attack’ as you put it, was in some way deserving [sic] of the historical behavior of certain people at a completely different mosque.”
Morgan had, on Monday, ripped into Robinson through his column in right-wing paper The Daily Mail, writing that “Robinson was not just incredibly offensive, he was factually wrong.”
“Social media has been swamped with similar garbage from white Islamophobes in the past few months, capitalising on the fear caused by recent terror attacks,” he added.
Morgan might distance himself from Robinson’s “Islamophobia”, and critique him and other individuals who spread hatred online. However, it is possible to see Tommy Robinson and his ilk, and the right-wing press Piers Morgan writes for, as little more than two sides of the same coin.
Does Robinson, then, have a point when he says that “you’ve been repeating what I’ve been saying for ten years, just in better English”?
Well, writing only a few weeks ago, in response to the Manchester Arena bombing, Morgan wrote a column entitled “The Manchester murderer may have been a 'lone wolf' but I refuse to believe NOBODY knew ANYTHING. As Trump said, Muslims must Drive. Them. Out.”
In it, he repeatedly suggested that the British Muslim community held some responsibility for not preventing the atrocity, in which 22 concert-goers died.
“I want to address those members of the community from where this killer came who knew him and did nothing to raise any alarm bells,” he wrote, adding that “there must be more Muslims can do as a community to spot these killers in their midst before they commit carnage.”
His claim that members of the Muslim community had not attempted to warn the authorities of perpetrator Salman Abedi’s intentions is factually wrong - locals reported him at least five times in the years leading to the attack.
In fact, he bases his assertions on conjecture, admiting he has “no idea” whether Abedi told anyone about his intentions.
Yet, Morgan's incorrect and poorly evidenced assumption here has the effect of implying - in an article on a widely read news website - that Islamist terror takes place, to some extent at least, with the tacit approval of British Muslims.
He might try to condemn "bigoted lunatics" like Robinson, but his own, apparently measured and yet unfactual claims in themselves can serve to create suspicion of UK Muslims, indirectly fueling Islamophobia and widening divisions within our society.
Indeed, while Morgan might criticize Robinson’s “inflammatory” choice of words, the same publication he writes for, The Daily Mail, was similarly criticized for its immediate response to the Finsbury Park attack.
First headline from the Daily Mail is disgusting and intentionally justifies terrorism. They knew they went too far and tried to change it. pic.twitter.com/Uh67JA9wfx— Shehab Khan (@ShehabKhan) June 19, 2017
I fixed the Daily Mail headline on today's terrorist attack. pic.twitter.com/lXlf1oFPmU— Ben Phillips (@benphillips76) June 19, 2017
The original headline read “White van driver injures at least 10 people after ploughing into a crowd outside the Finsbury Park mosque where hate cleric Abu Hamza once preached as Muslims finish their evening prayers.”
Abu Hamza was an extremist preacher at the Finsbury Park mosque, not far from where the attack happened, until 2003. He was arrested for terrorism offences the following year, and the mosque’s new management by all accounts transformed it into a ‘model of community relations’.
In referring to the mosque’s historic extremist connections, The Daily Mail implied some justification for the attack against it. To quote Piers Morgan on Tommy Robinson: “[The] subliminal message was clear: they deserved it.”
Morgan recognizes that Robinson has “a powerful and influential voice”, but does he not see the impact his own views, and the views of the right-wing press like The Daily Mail, have?
When Piers Morgan writes to the readers of Britain’s second most-read newspaper, urging them to “Get angry. Get ****ing angry [over Islamic extremism in the UK]”, he cannot then totally distance himself from figures like Robinson, or the Finsbury Park attacker, who turn such anger into actions.
He even acknowledges that he supports some of Robinson’s rhetoric; “This is not about me saying everything you say is wrong,” he said on Tuesday morning.
The UK’s right-wing press might not say “there’s no such word as Islamophobia”, as Robinson did yesterday. They might not describe Islam as “a bad idea” or angrily wave Qurans around on national television. But they come very close to it.
Headlines such as “Christianity Under Attack” (Daily Mail) and “Muslim Loonies Hijack Election” (Daily Star) promote hatred every bit as much as Robinson’s videos and tweets. And what is more terrifying, they have a much greater influence on British public opinion.
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